Former NFL star Herschel Walker easily defeated five opponents Tuesday in Georgia’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, setting up a November showdown against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in what will become one of the most closely watched races in the country.
Mr. Walker, 60, was declared the winner over state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, former state legislator Josh Clark, businessman Kelvin King, retired Gen. Jonathan McColumn, and former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler. With 13% of the vote counted, Mr. Walker had 70% of the vote. Only Mr. Black was even in double digits.
The victory by Mr. Walker was a marquee win for former President Donald Trump, who encouraged him to run. Mr. Walker’s easy win in the primary isn’t likely to be replicated in the general election.
Then, the former Heisman Trophy-winning running back will face the state’s increasingly Democratic electorate and millions of dollars seeking to keep the seat that Democrats flipped in the 2020 election.
The race between Mr. Walker and Mr. Warnock is rated as a toss-up by non-partisan analysts. With the Senate majority hanging in the balance, both parties and outside groups are poised to spend record sums on the race.
A Survey USA poll conducted in late April showed Mr. Warnock leading Mr. Walker by five points, while a Hill/Emerson poll taken early in the month had Mr. Walker ahead of Mr. Warnock by 4 points.
Mr. Warnock is running for his first full term in the Senate after beating GOP incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a January 2021 runoff, 51% to 49%.
He’s already outraised Mr. Walker, bringing in $13.6 million in the first three months of 2022, adding to the $9.8 million he raised in the final quarter of 2021. By comparison, Mr. Walker raised less than $11 million over the same two quarters combined.
Georgia’s electorate, once reliably red, has shifted toward Democrats thanks to an influx of new residents from the bluer Northeastern states who have moved to Atlanta and its suburbs in recent years.
President Biden narrowly won the state in 2020, beating Mr. Trump 49.5% to 49.3% in a contest that spurred prolonged accusations by Mr. Trump of election fraud. Just four years earlier, in 2016, Mr. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Georgia by a margin of 50.8% to 45.6%.
While the shifting electorate has made general elections far less predictable, Mr. Walker’s primary win on Tuesday was expected.
The former University of Georgia running back football star is a beloved figure in the Peach State, and Mr. Walker also received the coveted endorsement of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Walker consistently led his opponents by significant margins in the polls, leaving little doubt he would prevail. In the final week of the race, Mr. Walker was ahead of his five opponents by an average of 55 points.
Negative media reports ultimately did little to diminish Mr. Walker in the eyes of GOP voters.
One media report raised questions about Mr. Walker’s role as a spokesman promoting a veterans’ mental-health support group that the Justice Department accused of defrauding the government.
The former football star was also caught embellishing his resume, telling supporters he graduated at the top of his class at the University of Georgia when, in fact, he did not graduate, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution confirmed.
Mr. Trump, who once was Mr. Walker’s boss when he owned the USFL’s New Jersey Generals and the football star was on the roster, reiterated his support for Mr. Walker on Tuesday.
“Herschel is tough on Crime and Borders, and he will always stand in support of Law Enforcement, Military, and our Vets,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “He will fight hard for our Second Amendment and Voter Integrity. Herschel Walker will never let you down.”